BMCR 2023.05.04

Roman rule and Jewish life: collected papers

, , Roman rule and Jewish life: collected papers. Studia Judaica, 89. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2022. Pp. xxxii, 607. ISBN 9783110191448.



Judaea/Syria Palaestina was a province of the Roman Empire, Jews lived throughout the Roman Empire, and Christianity of course eventually became its dominant religion. Yet much of this is often not quite considered part of the remit of Classicists. Thus the Oxford Classical Texts series, for example, covers texts from across the Mediterranean, from diverse cultural backgrounds and treating a wide range of topics—Apuleius, Lucian, Plotinus, and even Isidore of Seville—but it does not cover the Septuagint, Josephus, the New Testament, Jerome. If a university has a Theology department and a Classics department, it is generally the Theology department that will deal with these latter texts. There are, of course, many reasons for this separation – historical, political, and certainly, in some ways, practical. But I would claim that the greater the separation, the more we lose as Classicists.

Hannah Cotton, Shalom Horowitz Professor of Classical Studies emerita at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is one of the exceptions to this trend.[1] Throughout her career, she has insisted that ‘Judaea was a normal province and Jewish society part and parcel of the society of the Roman Near East’, as she puts it in one of the articles included in the book under review.[2] In over four decades of scholarship, she has covered a variety of topics, but her main focus has been the administration and legal system of the Roman Empire, and the empire’s impact on everyday life—with particular analysis of Judaea/Syria Palaestina and Nabataea/Arabia.

She is also well known for her work as an editor. She co-edited the first edition of the Latin and Greek documents from Masada, and a collection of Hebrew and Greek texts from various sites in the Judaean Desert, chiefly Naḥal Ḥever.[3] Crucially, she has also been a leading member of the project Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaea/Palaestinae, a collection of all the inscriptions from Judaea/Syria Palaestina between Alexander the Great and Muhammad. Five volumes (three of which are split into two parts) have already been published, covering 5920 inscriptions, many edited for the first time. One of the most noteworthy features of the project is that it includes inscriptions in all languages, whether Aramaic or Armenian, Greek or Georgian. It is a crucial research resource for any scholar of Roman Judaea-Palestine and beyond; my own PhD depends on it. Though it could not be reflected in the volume under review, Hannah Cotton’s pathbreaking editorial work is a highly significant part of her scholarly legacy.

This book, a collection of thirty-four of her articles—all already published elsewhere, though not all equally easy to find – represents the range of her other scholarship well. For example, the first paper included, ‘Cicero, ad Familiares XIII, 26 and 28: Evidence for revocatio or reiectio Romae/Romam?’, is a deep analysis of two letters of Cicero in order to examine the possibility that Roman citizens ‘possessed a legal right to demand a remittal of their case from the provinces to Rome’.[4] The last paper in this volume, meanwhile, is entitled “The Conception of Jesus”.[5] Here Cotton uses evidence from a recently published Egyptian Jewish papyrus to bolster the disputed idea that a ‘two-stage marriage’, involving first betrothal and then ‘taking home’ of the bride by the groom, was regular amongst Jews of the Second Temple period. This is the phenomenon seen in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, which present Mary as betrothed but not yet wed to Joseph.

These two papers may seem quite removed from each other—the first is about an Oxford Classical Text, and the second is decidedly not, so to speak. But Cotton’s papers show the benefits of allowing ourselves to enter both spaces, and the bounties that can be reaped in the area in between the two. A good example of this is Cotton’s analysis of the use of Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew in legal and administrative documents from Judaea and Nabataea/Arabia (many of which she had edited herself). [6]  Most of these documents concern the personal affairs of Jews—deeds of sale, marriage contracts, and so on. Aramaic was likely the dominant language of these Jews. Why, then, do we find Hebrew and Greek at all? Cotton carefully dates all the Hebrew documents, all from Judaea, to the time of the two great Jewish revolts. The adoption of Hebrew in the legal and administrative sphere in Judaea, it therefore seems, was an ideological statement of Jewish identity. Nabataea, meanwhile, was an independent kingdom until its annexation as a province in AD 106. Until then, Aramaic was used for all legal and administrative documents; but after its incorporation into the Roman Empire, Greek immediately appears. This suggests a sharp change in the legal system of the area immediately upon conquest. In Judaea, meanwhile, it is only after the destruction of Jerusalem that we find Greek legal documents from Jewish circles. She relates this to the dissolution of the Great Sanhedrin, a Jewish legal authority, and the subsequent dependence on Roman courts.

Cotton notes: ‘[t]hat the overwhelming majority of documents in the archives from Arabia are in Greek is illustrative of the trust their writers put in non-Jewish courts, especially those of the Roman governor.’ In this, alongside the promotion of Hebrew during the revolt, we see the two sides of the coin—the disdain that some sectors of Jewish society felt for the Roman empire, but—just as significant – the acceptance and trust that others displayed. This fascinating topic reappears frequently throughout the book.[7]

A brief survey of all of the other papers in this volume would not do justice to their scope and interest. The collection is split into four sections: ‘Government, Power, and Jurisdiction’, ‘Documents, Languages, and Law’, ‘Land, Army, and Administration’, ‘Law, Custom, and Provincial Life’. Within each section, the articles are presented in chronological order. The truth is that the sections are not extremely distinct from each other.[8] The main dividing line is that the first section treats Cicero, Trajan, Cassius Dio, and the like, mostly reflecting her early research, while the latter three relate specifically to Judaea or Nabataea.

Generally the editor, Ofer Pogorelsky, has paid careful attention to ensuring that the papers follow each other in a logical order. The last paper in Section C, for example, ends with a brief discussion of the Jewish woman Babatha, a frequent presence in Hannah Cotton’s work; Section D then immediately begins with an introduction to the archive of her personal documents, before dealing with a specific topic emerging from her archive, namely the guardianship of her orphaned son and its relation to Romanisation and Jewish identity. At the same time, one might think that it would have made sense to present this paper, which opens with a general introduction of Babatha, before the rather specific paper that begins Section C – an analysis of where exactly Babatha was from that assumes that its reader knows who she is and why this matters.[9] Perhaps it would have been better to add a footnote where Babatha is first introduced in the volume that would direct us to the introduction about her that follows later. But this kind of issue is nigh impossible to avoid in a collection of papers that were written for different audiences and so assume different bases of knowledge.

Overall, this book contains something to appeal to scholars of many different interests—the relationship everyday subjects of the Roman Empire had to the imperial system and its treatment of them; the relationship between culture, language and empire; the legal and administrative functioning of the empire; the evolution of Jewish law; and the history of Roman Judaea and Nabataea-Arabia specifically. None of the papers have been superseded, but some have arguably received less attention than is due. In some cases this relates to the circumstances of their original publication, appearing, for instance, in an edited volume of limited distribution, for example. It is thus a great boon that they are all now easily accessible together in one volume. Cotton writes concisely but perceptively, and perhaps the greatest strength of the book is that the essays cohere so effectively. No one could read even a few articles across the book without realising the important fact that these topics, though ostensibly disparate, are in fact inseparably linked.

This collection is, then, a worthy testament to the wide-ranging yet always focused scholarship of Hannah Cotton throughout her career.

The articles have been left as originally written, except for changes to references to works that were forthcoming at the time of original writing but later published or abandoned, and the application of a uniform style of referencing. The book has also been furnished with useful indexes (a general index and an index of sources), and a complete list of Cotton’s publications. There are few typos: p.51 ‘nomimating’, p.543 ‘Matthew in 5:23’ for ‘1:23’.



A. Government, Power, and Jurisdiction

Cicero, ad Familiares XIII, 26 and 28: Evidence for revocatio or reiectio Romae/Romam?
Military Tribunates and the Exercise of Patronage
The Concept of Indulgentia under Trajan
The Role of Cicero’s Letters of Recommendation: Iustitia versus Gratia?
Cassius Dio, Mommsen and the Quinquefascales
The Evolution of the So-Called Provincial Law, or: Cicero’s Letters of Recommendation and Private International Law in the Roman World


B. Documents, Languages, and Law

Subscriptions and Signatures in the Papyri from the Judaean Desert: The χειροχρήστης
The Languages of the Legal and Administrative Documents from the Judaean Desert
‘Diplomatics’ or External Aspects of the Legal Documents from the Judaean Desert: Prolegomena
Survival, Adaptation and Extinction: Nabataean and Jewish Aramaic versus Greek in the Legal Documents from the Cave of Letters in Naḥal Ḥever
The Bar Kokhba Revolt and the Documents from the Judaean Desert: Nabataean Participation in the Revolt (P.Yadin 52)
Language Gaps in Roman Palestine and the Roman Near East
Private International Law or Conflict of Laws: Reflections on Roman Provincial Jurisdiction
Continuity of Nabataean Law in the Petra Papyri: A Methodological Exercise
Change and Continuity in Late Legal Papyri from Palaestina Tertia: Nomos Hellênikos and Ethos Rômaikon


C. Land, Army, and Administration

Babatha’s ‘Patria’: Maḥoza, Maḥoz ‘Eaglatain and Ẓo‘ar
Courtyard(s) in Ein-Gedi: P.Yadin 11, 19 and 20 of the Babatha Archive
Land Tenure in the Documents from the Nabataean Kingdom and the Roman Province of Arabia
Ἡ νέα ἐπαρχεία Ἀραβία: The New Province of Arabia in the Papyri from the Judaean Desert
Some Aspects of the Roman Administration of Judaea/Syria-Palaestina
The Legio VI Ferrata
Ein Gedi between the Two Revolts
The Roman Census in the Papyri from the Judaean Desert and the Egyptian κατ’ οἰκίαν ἀπογραφή
The Administrative Background to the New Settlement Recently Discovered near Giv‘at Shaul, Ramallah-Shu‘afat Road
The Impact of the Roman Army in the Province of Judaea/Syria Palaestina


D. Law, Custom, and Provincial Life

The Guardianship of Jesus Son of Babatha: Roman and Local Law in the Province of Arabia
The Guardian (ἐπίτροπος) of a Woman in the Documents from the Judaean Desert
The Law of Succession in the Documents from the Judaean Desert Again
The Rabbis and the Documents
The Impact of the Documentary Papyri from the Judaean Desert on the Study of Jewish History from 70 to 135 CE
Jewish Jurisdiction under Roman Rule: Prolegomena
Women and Law in the Documents from the Judaean Desert
Eleuthera and Brat Horin: Another Look at Babatha’s Ketubba, P.Yadin 10
‘The Conception of Jesus’



[1] Alongside, among others, the late Fergus Millar, who supervised her doctorate in Oxford and whose collected papers Cotton edited alongside Guy Rogers (H.M. Cotton & G.M. Rogers (eds.), F. Millar, Rome, the Greek World, and the East, vols. 1-3, 2002-2006, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.).

[2] P. 378, from ‘The Roman Census in the Papyri from the Judaean Desert and the Egyptian κατ’οἰκίαν ἀπογραφή’, originally published in an edited volume in 2003.

[3] H.M. Cotton & J. Geiger (eds.), Masada II: The Latin and Greek Documents. Jerusalem: IES, 1989.; H.M. Cotton & A. Yardeni (eds.), Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek Documentary Texts from Naḥal Ḥever and other Sites: Discoveries in The Judaean Desert XXVII. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

[4] Originally in JRS 69 (1979).

[5] Originally in an edited volume from 2018.

[6] Pp. 127-146, ‘The Language of the Legal and Administrative Documents from the Judaean Desert’, originally published in ZPE 125 (1999) 219-231.

[7] See also e.g. pp. 387-400, ‘The Impact of the Roman Army in the Province of Judaea/Syria Palaestina’.

[8] As one may after all expect just from glancing at the section names – B and D both contain ‘law’, which is, of course, related to A’s ‘jurisdiction’ and C’s ‘administration’.

[9] Pp. 275-283, ‘Babatha’s “Patria”: Maḥoza, Maḥoz ʿEaglatain and Ẓoʿar’.